For 2SLGBTQ+ youth, pride in schools is life or death

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Accepting 2SLGBTQ+ youth is a need, not an option. Pixabay

How Regina Public School’s ruling will only continue to hurt the community

“By supporting [the decision of the Regina Public School board to not recognize Pride],” says Andy Trussler, a previous op-ed editor of the Carillon, in a personal statement, “you support the death of [2SLGBTQ+] children.”

Andy’s response, however bold it may seem to some, comes from a place of experience with great pain. It is the product of what I recognize in myself as the sensitivity you develop from being queer and/or trans as a young person in the public school system. If you were out in school in the early 2000s, you may very well know what I mean; whether you existed, or whether you deserved to exist without meeting violence, was a frequent topic of heated debate.

As someone who came out at 15, I experienced this first-hand, making shame and self-hatred an integral part of my adolescence. I spent time in a psychiatric ward before my graduation because of a depression largely informed by the reality of the hatred directed at me.

I want to stress that those experiences of mine are not uncommon and, in fact, in many ways I was lucky and privileged. I want straight, cisgender people to understand this before they approach any conversation about young 2SLGBTQ+ people: trauma is the rule of our coming-of-age, not the exception. There is no separating “emotion” (that is, the facts of traumatic homophobia and transphobia) from this issue.

Although I’m now graduated from high school – I don’t know the particulars of how social perceptions have changed since then – I know that this cycle of hatred is still alive and well. I know that the only thing that can really give relief to young people suffering the isolation of the closet or of homophobia/transphobia is community; community with people who truly see us and will not fight us on the right to exist. My arts and culture article on SPACE was an effort to let students know where this community can be found right now. I think such an effort was particularly necessary this week because of the star event of this paper’s issue, the Regina Public School (RPS) board Pride motion.

As Ben Schneider expands on in the news section, the school board trustees voted down this motion: “Be it resolved that RPS recognize and support the celebration of Pride and fly the rainbow flag at our facilities each June.” Those defending their “no” vote cite confusion with why the motion was needed, as well as confusion about wording and what exactly the motion meant.

In response to this, Jacq Brasseur, director of UR Pride and (I would say based on experience) an enthusiastic expert at board meetings and how they work, slyly tweeted a link to “Robert’s Rules for Amending a Motion, For Dummies.” Indeed, amending the motion for clearer wording, or simply knowing what was actually covered in the meeting beforehand, would have resolved a lot of these concerns. They seem suspiciously easy to resolve, leading most of us to think something else was going on.

CBC confirmed in a report that there had been an email campaign within the population of Regina Victory Church, a congregation which often speaks up on what it considers contentious city policies, leading up to the vote. The concerns from the church were that “morality” was going to be taught in public schools. Board chair Katherine Gagne says parents’ concerns were about “religious freedoms, parental roles and age-appropriateness,” according to CJME. Gagne also posted on Facebook that the vote amounted to “a shotgun every man (school) for themselves approach” where schools are having drag queens read to kindergarteners and telling third graders they don’t have to choose their gender yet.

Well, you know what? That all sounds extremely familiar to me, and to every 2SLGBTQ young person who was at that meeting and heard about that vote. Opponents of this motion are only saying exactly what we already hear. They make the same accusations, even in the subtlest ways, that tormented me as a young person: I am immoral, I go against some vague concept of “religious order,” and even when I was literally a child I wasn’t “age-appropriate.”

Those are old, tired talking points, and I have heard every single one of them before. We all have. The school board vote was meant to protect the right of Regina Public Schools to celebrate Pride, exactly because this kind of opposition to it exists. To claim that it is attempting to impose any kind of “values” onto the school board is pure homophobic, transphobic fearmongering.

When I asked Andy to send me a personal statement, as both a friend and a colleague, I knew I was asking a lot – just as I asked a lot of myself when I decided to go back to high school in my mind. Nearly every 2SLGBTQ person I know on social media has sent a message of heartfelt disappointment about this decision, and I think it’s fair to say we’re all feeling a little naked, a little tired. To not even recognize Pride effectively made a statement that 2SLGBTQ+ identity and culture are not part of any healthy child’s environment, and when we look at the facts of how 2SLGBTQ youth are in danger, that is the very opposite of the truth.

Andy says this of their experience at Campbell Collegiate, where I also attended, and I recognize their story immediately: “Being a lesbian in Regina Public Schools was hell. I lost friends almost immediately [after coming out] . . . they were “afraid of me.” When I was 15, I was more depressed than I thought was humanly possible . . . a group of eight boys [regularly] threw things at me, spat at me, and yelled my name. I couldn’t exit a certain back door without my friends.”

I remember looking at [my other gay friends’] vandalized garages, looking at them being leered at in the halls . . . The school did nothing. As president of our Gay Straight Alliance in my senior year, I was brought down to the office. My name was read over the speakers . . . I was asked, personally, by the principal to remove our posters discussing transphobia. She said kids were uncomfortable, and I had to think of the greater population. I obviously did not come out as trans until after I graduated. I managed to stay alive [in high school], but not without effort.”

I would invite RPS parents to ask themselves if their vague notions of “age-appropriate values” (which I would like to hear them clearly lay out) are more important than a motion which could formally improve the support network of students whose actual lives are at risk. Many people seem to think that calling Pride a life-or-death issue is an exaggeration; unfortunately, it is not, and we know that from far too much experience.

I am here in post-secondary education today because of the few affirming resources I had as a teenager in school. That mostly meant friends who reacted positively to my coming out, and the GSA at my school. That was all I had, and because of that, it breaks my heart that many kids like me didn’t make it. We can do more to make sure that more kids make it, and to halt that progress – even to not understand why that progress is necessary – it feels a little heartless.

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